Inn Port Bed and Breakfast Suites in Dayton’s Historic Oregon District looks and feels like it was built in the 19th Century. In fact, the entire neighborhood – Dayton’s first platted – was built by the hands of those who worked the Miami-Erie Canal, which opened in 1829. It’s no wonder the surrounding homes look as solidly built today as they must have almost 200 years ago, and the Inn Port follows suit.
Melanie and I stayed at the Inn Port D’Vino on Brown Street, which also serves as a wine shop, after a booking error pushed us out of the cheaper Guesthouse nearby. We were generously upgraded at the same cost.
The Inn’s location on Brown Street puts it in the heart of Dayton’s most attractive neighborhood, right around the corner from Oregon’s “downtown,” East 5th Street. You’ll find the best of the city within a few blocks. Have dinner across the street at Thai 9 (pad see ew), and then head to Boulevard Haus for a beer, where you can chat with the Dayton-local bartender who ironically (after eating at the nearby Thai restaurant) longs to return to his patient fiancé in Thailand.
The rest of the district, which stretches about a quarter mile down the street, has a healthy selection of different bars and restaurants to explore alongside locally owned shops. I found a vintage movie still from Charlie Chaplin’s City Lights, and you’ll surely find your own hidden gem.
Cursed by the Weather Gods
Unfortunately, we traveled in early July when the weather Gods decided to curse the typically comfortable Dayton-area with 100-degree weather, though we still found energy to venture beyond the district. A reasonable walk or bike ride north will lead you through Dayton’s city center to their riverfront. We walked to RiverScape Metropark on a Friday night and were disappointed at the lack of people, no doubt a result of the Egyptian-esque heat we think of when hearing tales of the pyramids.
Unknown to many, Dayton is an official bronze-level bicycling community according to the League of American Bicyclists. So I wholeheartedly recommend you take advantage of the trails that surround the city, especially along the riverfront. We followed along the Miami River for several miles during our trek toward the National Museum of the United States Air Force – Dayton’s biggest attraction, thanks to Dayton’s own Wright Brothers.
We took a more urban route on our return and stopped by the Second Street Market on, you guessed it, Second Street in Downtown Dayton. Though we travelers had no need to shop the local farmer’s markets, there were plenty of food stands offering the fuel we needed after a long day riding bikes in 100-degree heat.
An Urban Dive
For something truly unique, head off the main strip in Oregon a few blocks to Olive, an urban dive, on East 3rd Street
and Wayne Avenue. Don’t be fooled by the shabby exterior, which looks like a tiny 1950’s diner went through a nuclear holocaust. (Actually it was Dayton’s first drive up diner, built in 1938).
Instead, head on in and enjoy something different. Sure, it may seem “different for the sake of being different,” but they don’t beat you over the head with their uniqueness. The staff is friendly, accommodating to offering another table if you prefer not sitting in sunlight during ungodly temperatures, and the food is filling and tasty. But make sure to bring your own booze! The tiny establishment plays by the BYOB rules. Luckily, there’s a beer and wine shop on East 5th or you can buy from your bed and breakfast.
“A Deserted Feeling”
After dinner, go for a walk down Wayne Avenue and you’ll stumble across Garden Station – a collaborative revitalization project transforming a two acre lot on the northeast corner of Fourth Street and Wayne Avenue that was vacant for more than 40 years into a vibrant art park and community garden. The goal is to create an “urban hub” where local can come together as a community to enjoy art, campfires, movies, concerts, and of course, the community garden.
The scene is difficult to describe. There were no events when we visited – only a couple of people watering plants around the lot. A deserted feeling took over, like we were someplace we shouldn’t be. It was… cool. Sure, I thought I was about to find a box of decapitated cabbage patch kid heads near the greenhouse, and had this eerie feeling we were being watched the entire time, but I’ve never seen anything like it. It’s something that’s uniquely Dayton, and I hope to be back when something’s actually going on.
East 5th Street lies just around the corner from Garden Station. So whether you head in for the night or over to bar for a night cap, you won”t (shouldn’t) be disappointed in your visit. Sure, Dayton has had its ass kicked relentlessly over the years, but it’s a special town nonetheless. And I can say unequivocally that the Oregon neighborhood features some of the nicest homes I’ve ever seen. Seriously, just go for a walk around the block. It makes me wonder how we as a culture began to favor McMansion style suburban retreats with as much character as the McDonald’s concoction they get their namesake from over these mid-19th Century gems. ‘Tis a damn shame.
Dayton may illicit groans from select locals, but you can certainly do worse. The Gem City is filled with history, has some of the best cycling opportunities in the Midwest, and is home to an authentic historic arts district that isn’t just another tourism bureau’s attempt at a re-branding campaign. Dayton is definitively Rust Belt Chic and will always have a special place in my mind.
Update September 27, 2012: I was informed overnight that the Boulevard Haus has since closed due to some unsavory (illegal) behavior by the owner. Locals expect a Mexican or Indian restaurant to take its place. Let this be a lesson to any other writers out there. Make sure the owner of an establishment you’re writing about hasn’t recently been sentenced to nine years in prison before recommending it.